Friday, April 11, 2014

Rev. James McGregor (1677 - 1729) of Nutfield, New Hampshire to be honored in Aghadowey, Northern Ireland

Richard Holmes, Derry Town Historian,
thanks to the Union Leader newspaper

A Press Release by Rick Holmes, the Town Historian of Derry, New Hampshire:

Blue Plaque Presentation, 2014

On July 28, 2014 the Rev. James McGregor (1677-1729) of Derry, NH will be honored with a “Blue Plaque” memorial in Aghadowey, Northern Ireland. Rev. McGregor was the leader of the pioneers that in 1719 settled the Nutfield grant in Southern New Hampshire -- now the towns of Derry, Londonderry, Windham as well as portions of Manchester, Hudson, Salem, and Pelham. The Encyclopedia of Irish History in America has called McGregor “the Moses of the Scotch Irish in America.” The plaque will be put up by the Ulster History Circle, with funding from the Ulster-Scots Agency.

The exact particulars of the ceremony on July 28th are still being developed. Derry’s Town Historian Rick Holmes has been invited to take part in the unveiling of the plaque. It is hoped that others from the area can join him at this unique honor being offered to the founder of Derry, Londonderry and Windham by the people of Northern Ireland. We are possibly the only town in America to have its founder so officially honored “across the pond.” 

History of the Blue Plaque Scheme

The original “Blue Plaque” scheme was started in London in 1867 with the goal of installing permanent signs in public places ‘to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person or event.” Examples of such commemorated sites include the homes of such luminaries as Charles Dickens, Napoleon III, Sigmund Freud, Benjamin Franklin and Lord Byron and even several buildings associated with the Beatles. The popularity of these plaques in London led to similar programs being run across the United Kingdom and now even in Paris, Rome, Oslo and Dublin.

 Since 1983 the Blue Plaque program in Northern Ireland has been under the administration of the Ulster History Circle. The circle is a wholly voluntary organization that relies on local councils, businesses, individuals, and organizations to fund the plaques. To this date they have erected over 170 plaques throughout the 5345 square miles of Northern Ireland. The Ulster History Circle has also recently installed one plaque in County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland.

Most of the plaques in Northern Ireland honor individuals who, while having distinguished careers, are likely unknown to most Americans. There are however a number which have established world-wide fame. Among these are:
      Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1899) writer of the hymn All Things Bright and 
      Samuel Beckett (1906-1999) playwright and Nobel Laureate
      John Dunlop (1840-1921) inventor of the pneumatic tire
      C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) author of the Narnia stories
      Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) inventor of wireless communication
      Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) King of Scots
      Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) scientist
      Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) author of Gulliver’s Travels
      Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) author and wit
Only 2 other Blue Plaques from the History Circle recognize Ulster-born individuals who are chiefly associated with America; one is for the Rev. Francis Makemie (1657-1708,) the “father of Presbyterianism” in America. His plaque is near his birthplace in Ramelton, County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. The other is at the town of Strabane, NI in honor of Ezekiel J. Donnell (1822-1896,) an “industrialist, polemicist and philanthropist” of New York City

Background on Rev. James McGregor:

James McGregor was likely born in Northern Ireland (Ulster,) circa 1677 of Scottish ancestry; some believe he was the cousin of the famous Rob Roy McGregor. As a 12 year old boy he was trapped in the city of Londonderry during the 105 day long siege of the city by the forces of King James II in 1689. It is said that McGregor was standing on the tower of the city’s cathedral and was the first to signal the starving people of the city that a rescue boat had broke through the Jacobite blockade. In 1701 he became the pastor of a small Presbyterian church in Aghadowey and soon became known as the village’s peacemaker. In 1710 the synod gave him the privilege to preach in the Gaelic language.

 During the 2nd decade of the 18th century times began to grow tough for the Scots in Ireland. The British government issued a number of edicts favoring the Anglican Church which was the established (official) church. No longer were Presbyterians allowed to hold office, teach or to conduct most civil ceremonies such as marriages and funerals. Economic laws hurt the Ulster Scots in making a living by selling linen, their chief source of income. Rents on English owned lands were also on the rise. Soon there was a fever for emigration throughout Ulster. While for decades Presbyterian Scots and Ulster Scots had been immigrating to the British colonies in America, the first to do in a big way was Rev. McGregor
 In 1718 Rev. James McGregor and the major part of his congregation set sail for America on the brigantine Robert. This group consisted of perhaps 200 souls, representing 3 or 4 generations of Ulster’s history. They were primarily from16 families and ranged in age from babes-in-arms to an elderly couple nearly ninety years old. A few were landed local gentry but most were poor tenants of crown land. All were willing to follow the charismatic McGregor 3000 miles west to start a new Ulster in America. All shared the faith that their God and their pastor would lead them safely across 3000 miles of open ocean, despite the dangers of fierce storms and cut-throat pirates. Setting out, they truly believed with the Apostle Paul, “If God is for us who can be against us?”

 Each adult was aware that in the New World there was the possibility of Indian attacks, starvation, and disease. They were to become “strangers in a strange land.” Each knew that for the first time in their life, they would be without any kith or kin to give them comfort. They also knew that they would likely never see their Ulster friends again or walk the familiar green hills of the Bann Valley. They were giving up everything they had known to start a new life in the American wilderness. Despite these dangers the 16 families were united in their willingness to follow McGregor to America.   

Arriving in New England they found they were unwelcomed by the Puritans of Boston. Despite this hostility the 16 families stayed united behind pastor McGregor. They had come too far to turn back. Soon they were diverted to Maine where they suffered through a long, cold winter. Returning south in the spring they heard about an unoccupied piece of land in the province of New Hampshire that had been previously named Nutfield. In 1719 McGregor persuaded the Royal Governor to give the Ulster pioneers the 144 square mile wilderness grant. This thickly forested land was many miles from any other community…. or even from roads. Here in Nutfield they could establish their village on a hill; their new Ulster would be where they could be culturally Scots, raise their families, weave linen and worship in their own kirk. Beside their faith and culture, the Nutfield Pioneers also brought potatoes to North America. In the common field in 1719 they planted what is commonly recognized as the first crop of pradies in North America.

 By the end of the first year the Nutfield colony was judged a success. Under McGregor the community soon built a meeting house, church and a school. Nearly every house was soon spinning and weaving linen that quickly became known as the best in America. In 1722 Nutfield was incorporated as a town and took as it’s the official name: Londonderry.
The news of the success of Londonderry soon spread back to Ulster and thousands were inspired to follow McGregor across the Atlantic to the New World. Many Ulster Scots during the 1720’s came initially to “Londonderry in New England” before settling in other places which still had cheap land. There are dozens of towns in Canada and America which were founded by ex pats from McGregor’s town; some even named their new towns “Londonderry” after the town in New Hampshire. Rev. James McGregor died in 1729; he was only 52 years old. He is buried underneath an impressive red sandstone grave stone in the Forest Hill Cemetery in East Derry, directly behind the site of the church he founded in 1719. One additional matter of interest is that genealogical research has proven that the  Rev. James McGregor is the great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather of Secretary of State John Kerry.


1. Each year the Ulster History Circle receives many nominations for Blue Plaques. The basic criterion for approving the selection is that individuals to be honored must:
 ·         Be dead for 20 years or, if less, have passed the centenary of their birth;
 ·         Be associated with the province of Ulster through birth, education, work or vocation;
 ·         Have made a significant contribution to the development or delivery of education, industry, commerce, science, arts and literature, politics, international affairs or other calling anywhere in the world.
    2. The term “scheme” is Brit-speak for “plan” or “proposal.”

     3. The American term “Scotch Irish” is never used in the UK. The preferred phrase is     
        “Ulster Scots.”
     4.  During the 18th century the proper name McGregor was spelled in several
           different ways such as “MacGregor”, “Macgregor,” “McGregor” Mcgregor and
           “M’Gregor”  as well as having those 5 variant spellings having an “e” as the   
           last letter. IE “McGregore.” 

1 comment:

  1. Great article. Rev. McGregor a fascinating man. Part of McGregor’s duties as a minister was to preach and proselytize in Gaelic to the to the native Irish and Redshank communities in Antrim and Derry. He was responsible for a large number of native Irish and Redshank converts. If you look at the rolls of the early Nutfield settlers you will see many Highland Scottish surnames that originate in the Laggan of Donegal and the Route district in the Bann Valley. .